Like most American ashtangi’s I had heard stories about John Scott for years. One of my teachers in the Bay Area had practiced with John when he lived in London many years ago. But when I asked about the John Scott-style, I didn’t get much of a clue. People would tell you little things about his practice style. John says,
“Save your knees and hamstrings, leave a slight bend in your knees when you enter a standing pose.”
“Keep your hands firmly on the ground as you breathe through trini position in Suryanamaskar.”
But, I couldn’t get a sense of what to expect of John as a teacher. When the Ashtanga community in Vancouver succeeded in getting John to come to North America in June 2007 (June 9th through the 13th), it was a unique chance to see for myself.
What John teaches is inspiration as much as anything else. If you are looking for an in-depth training to help you understand the linkages between anatomy and the practice, this is probably not the workshop for you [David Roche comes to mind here -Ed]. But if, like me, you run into periods when getting on the mat and then heaving yourself through poses and vinyasas is a little strenuous, then go. Go to New Zealand where John lives, find a workshop and go. The workshop really focused on loving the practice and approaching the practice with an attitude that will allow you to practice for life.
I have taken a few workshops and there is almost always a focus on asana and then vinyasa – the mechanics of practice. These are always great and extremely helpful when you are just getting into primary series. You want the formula to practice. What is the cheat? What’s the recipe? We all want to look like Richard Freeman’s or John Scott’s DVD – airborne. John focuses on the practice as a whole. We are trained to think of practice as asanas linked by “jump-backs”. You learn a posture and then your teacher gives you a new posture. So of course that is how we think of practice. In this workshop, the practice is the unit, one flowing movement from Samasthiti to Savasana, from one’s first stance in Samasthiti to one’s closing death in Savasana. A little microscopic life lived out each morning.
The Vancouver workshop was about how to get there. So, the three elements we focused on were breath, bandhas, and dristi, not asana, not jump backs. The same three things that are the focus of most meditation practices – breathing, grounding/lifting of one’s posture, and the gaze. Morning practice focused progressively on these three elements over the course of the workshop. Try practicing one morning and stopping when you have lost the breath. You’ll be surprised at the results. John did talk about some asanas and technique, but I think almost exclusively as a response to student questions.
In the afternoons John shared technique (but always related to the three elements of the practice), stories of his experience of yoga, stories of Mysore, observations on the state of the world. John’s general style was laid back. Everything was delivered with a “give it a try and see what you think” attitude.
The workshop was large (50 plus people), but I think the size actually helped us focus on the practice and not get too bogged down in poses and the inevitable problem of did you get adjusted or not. The organization was great , despite a few issues with the venue. And Vancouver is a fantastic summer getaway, beautiful, clean, not too hot, not too cool. If I had one suggestion for the organizers for next year (I am hoping that John puts this on his travel schedule), is find a venue in Kitsalano, a nicer neighborhood than the downtown venue that we used this year.
A review has to have stars or thumbs to make it easy to grasp. So here you go. I give John Scott’s Vancouver Workshop two thumbs up. Suggestions for next year would be longer maybe a full week or even two, and maybe in a more laid-back location than downtown Vancouver. Anyone else that attended please add any other thoughts in the comment sections below.